Everything free in America

Or My 2010 US Deep South trip (part 3 of 4)

I like to be in America, OK by me in America,

Everything free in America, For a small fee in America.

West Side Story

Part 1 is here.

Part 2 is here.

FRIDAY 28/5/10

The Spoleto Festival USA proper started today, and crowds were on the streets. We walked through the large market at Marion Square, where I bought a commemorative festival T-shirt, and then we went to the visitors’ centre to buy tickets to some events. On the way back, we dropped in on an art and craft expo, where I topped up on hand-crafted jewellery. There was some lovely stuff there. (It’s my duty as a tourist, after all, to prop up the local economy.)

The Pleasures of the Royal Courts (madrigal singers) event was in the Presbyterian church, and I really enjoyed it, especially as Jane and I sat in my favourite spot for live concerts – as far up the front as possible. The medieval instruments, like the crumhorn, were laid out on the pew in front of us, so we couldn’t get much closer. Next to me was an artist sketching the musicians with watercolour pencils as they performed. We got talking – she lived in the Bahamas, had an apartment in New York City, and went to the Charleston festival every year. A hard life! The singing was glorious and transporting.

SATURDAY 29/5/10

Today I went to a Sacred Harp shape-note singing ‘performance’, which wasn’t really a performance but a worship gathering. I was on the lookout for singing events as I am into a capella, yet I hadn’t heard of this wonderful form of traditional Southern 4-part harmony – read more about it here. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up to be seated amongst 60 people belting out old-style hymns at the tops of their voices – very moving, even though I am not religious at all. I tend to ignore lyrics and absorb the effects of the sound, especially if it’s “live”.

A show featuring a stage magician was in the afternoon – the poor man was having technical issues with the lighting and he seemed to be having a few problems. Good job I had only been charged US$8 for it (for being a “senior” – my first-ever over-55 discount!).

The band’s morning gig was the Children’s Parade in the Marion Square parkland. The midnight gig was, well, at midnight – the Pajama Parade at the US Customs House. Both were very loud and very colourful, and the audience really enjoyed them.

US Customs House, Charleston – clean, classical architecture

SUNDAY 30/5/10

In the morning I meandered around the streets, checking out some art galleries and stores on my own. I enjoyed randomly walking down any street that took my fancy, as I has a map and knew I wouldn’t get lost. Ha! At one point I did actually lose my way, so decided to follow a mother and daughter who looked like they knew where they were going with their map.  The city is small enough that I knew I’d soon recognise where I was. After five minutes or so, they realised I was following them, so I thought I’d better explain myself. Once they heard my accent they were very friendly.

I then walked down to the US Custom House for the band’s Memorial Day gig – they’d all dressed patriotically in red, white and blue. Memorial Day is a major US holiday and the start of the long summer break, so many people were out on the street enjoying the festival.

Here are some of the members of “that crazy band” (as one of the audience near me called them) in colourful costumes for the Memorial Day gig – red, white and blue for the patriotic many. The woven baskets on the bottom left in the first shot are made of sweetgrass. The basket-making tradition is kept by the descendants of slaves brought over from West Africa, called the Gullah people. You can read about the tradition here.

Audience in place for the gig on the steps of the Customs House

The band’s official photographer readies his camera

Brad (in the white dress) has his own fan club, eager to see what sort of costume he will come up with next

One member of the audience had her own fantastic adornment …

MONDAY 31/5/10

We had breakfast in a restaurant set out like an old-style American diner, Jack’s. I tried grits – ground corn, sort of like oat porridge, which I liked – and biscuits (what we would call “scones” at home). Then we packed and said our goodbyes to our room-mates, and drove off to St Mary’s on the coast in the very south of Georgia, near the Florida border (4 hours on the freeway from Charleston). The Florida peninsula was all that was guarding us from the giant oil spill in the gulf of Mexico, which was all over the media at that time.

I now know the difference between a swamp and a marsh – marshes have low grasses, reeds and sedges (about 1 metre high) with rivulets in between, and swamps have tall trees, often with hanging Spanish moss, growing on wet, spongy land.

Charleston marshes – the protective barrier islands are on the horizon

We dropped in at a Burger King for a break, and there was a brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) pecking around on the ground near the car park. It was peach season, and many roadside stalls sold them. Somewhere along the way we saw four sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis). There were many bus-sized mobile homes speeding along the freeway, some pulling full-sized cars, and one with an extra trailer with Harley-Davidson motorcycles inside it.

St Mary’s seems to be not much more than the take-off point for the ferry to Cumberland Island, one of the many barrier islands on the Atlantic coast and possibly the least developed. We had dinner at a pleasant restaurant overlooking saltwater marsh rivulets. An anhinga (Anhinga anhinga, a bird of the same genus as our darter Anhinga novaehollandiae, but brown rather than black and white) landed on the rocks below and hung out its wings to dry. It seemed to be a juvenile.

TUESDAY 1/6/10

Off to Cumberland Island by a 45-minute ferry ride – see my previous post here.

On the way back on the ferry, something was jumping out of the water a lot. We assumed they were dolphins, but the shape wasn’t right, and Jane came to the conclusion that they were manta rays, which travel in packs and jump out of the water. Also saw an osprey (we have these at home) and tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor). There was a blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata) pecking around on the motel lawn.

Today we received news that the band’s four life-sized plastic pink flamingos and banner had been recovered – they had been stolen during the festival, apparently by a couple of girl freshmen (freshgirls?), but security videocameras had recorded the event (I had forgotten there are security cameras all over the States, just as there are in the UK) and the campus police had tracked them down and recovered them. Campus police are usual in US universities, and are separate from the state law enforcement. Charges were not going to be pressed, as the girls hopefully got enough of a fright to deter them.

After a swim in the motel pool – in a thunderstorm – we headed off to a fabulous seafood dinner in a nice little restaurant at the edge of the marshes. A satisfying day all round.

Continued in Part 4.

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2 Responses to Everything free in America

  1. Pingback: For a small fee in America | A-roving I will go

  2. Pingback: Okay by me in America | A-roving I will go

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